The National Hurricane Center (NHC) upgraded Ian to hurricane status on Monday as the storm had top sustained winds of 85 mph, as of 2 p.m. ET. As the storm is moving north from the Caribbean Sea into the Gulf of Mexico, a hurricane watch was issued for parts of Florida, including the Tampa area.
The storm is expected to create a possible huge surge of water into the shallow Tampa Bay area.
Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science, said, “Strong persistent winds will push a lot of water into the bay and there’s nowhere for it to go, so it just builds up.”
McNoldy said, “Tampa Bay is very surge-prone because of its orientation.”
NHC predicts the storm surge in the Tampa Bay area could reach between 5 and 10 feet above the normal tide conditions. Hurricane Ian could also produce rainfall levels between 10 and 15 inches, further worsening the situation.
Cathie Perkins, emergency management director in Pinellas County in Florida, said, “That’s a lot of rain. That’s not going to drain out quickly.”
Perkins said, “This is no joke. This is life-threatening storm surge.”
The National Hurricane Center said it expects Ian to become a major hurricane before making landfall in Florida later this week. Where the hurricane will come ashore on Florida’s gulf coast remains a question. The National Hurricane Center’s forecast cone has it making landfall anywhere from the Fort Myers to Pensacola areas.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “Clearly, when you look at the Tampa Bay area, one of the reasons why we fear storms is because of the sensitivity of this area and the fragility of this area.”
Although Ian is expected to intensify through Wednesday evening quickly, forecasters are hopeful the storm won’t maintain its intensity before landfall. The National Hurricane Center expects increased wind shear and a drier mid-level environment to affect the hurricane by late Wednesday.
The federal government has started mobilizing resources to Florida. Over the weekend, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state.d
Tampa Bay hasn't been hit by a major storm since Oct. 25, 1921. At the time, the hurricane was not given an official name but was later given the name the Tarpon Springs storm.